Health Care Under Threat in Ukraine 

U.N. health officials warn that more people in Ukraine will start dying from chronic diseases and preventable illnesses than from war injuries the longer the conflict goes on.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that health workers in Ukraine were continuing to deliver care in the face of unimaginable human suffering and in areas of total devastation.

WHO is calling on Russia to enact an immediate cease-fire and to grant unhindered access of humanitarian assistance for those in need.  Despite the many constraints, officials said they had been able to deliver 185 tons of medical supplies to the hardest-hit areas in the country and had reached half a million people with trauma and surgical support and primary health care.

Hans Henri Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, is in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.  He said the escalating war was obstructing efforts to provide medication and treatment to the sick and wounded.

“As of today, WHO has verified 91 attacks on health,” he said. “Routine immunization coverage for polio and measles is below the threshold for population immunity.  Fifty percent of Ukraine’s pharmacies are presumed closed, and 1,000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas or in changed areas of control.”

No care for new babies

Kluge added that roughly 80,000 babies would be born in the next three months. He said they would be missing out on pre-natal and post-natal care because of the war.  He said attacks on hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel were a breach of international humanitarian law and must stop.

Heather Papowitz, WHO’s incident manager in Ukraine, said war is a risk to public health.

“With the destruction of health facilities, the lack of access to health facilities, people on the move, people living in shelters and basements and crowded together puts everybody at risk for infectious diseases. … So, all of these put the most vulnerable at risk, which are the elderly, the children and the pregnant women,” she said.

Papowitz said these risks for those migrating continue through their journey and into other countries of asylum.

The latest figures from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine at nearly 3,840, including 1,611 killed. The U.N. migration and refugee agencies said 7.1 million people had been displaced inside Ukraine and another 4.2 million people had fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge.

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